Thursday, January 3, 2008

So good I forgot to eat

For as long as I can remember, I've enjoyed reading. Sometimes it takes me a while to finish a book. Sometimes I fly through them.

One thing I have noticed in my years of reading is that there are writers out there that like to include meals in their books. Vivid imagery of dinners past. Detailing into even the spices and herbs on plates. food you can smell and taste just off the text.

My most vivid memory of a book's food description would have to be Diego El Rojo, a coming of age, biographical story of a young Diego Rivera (my favorite Mexican muralist, for more reasons than just his art) and his rise to fame and communist idealism. Written by his daughter, Guadalupe Rivera Marin.

She delves into details of Mexican family breakfasts and European meals revolving around bottles of wine. Describes even what seems to be the texture of the cheeses sprinkled on top of the beans and the green enchiladas. Until this point, I had not read anything, I don't think, that talked so much (and so well) about aliments.

I have now finished reading another book, given to me by a friend for my birthday, which reminded me quite a bit of Diego El Rojo. Not by characters nor story-line, but by the foods consumed by the characters.

Catfish and Mandala takes you in a journey through both time and continents. Retelling the story of the author, Andrew X. Pham. Part autobiography, part memoir, part journal. Andrew travels from Vietnam to the United States with his parents after the fall of Saigon in 75, coming to the States as a young immingrant (something I immediately felt akin to), not even knowing how to speak the language. He tells his tales of displaced childhood in a country of strangers.

He also recounts his travels trying to find his roots, biking from California to Washington. Biking Japan and Vietnam, in search of himself and his background. His adventures and realizations of his home country transcend him, his take on life, and Vietnam as a whole.

Through the entire book, Pham describes meals eaten through out his whole trip, from campfire meals in the desert of Mexico to Vietnamese style feasts at family reunions in California to rice cakes and beating cobra hearts in Vietnam.

There's a part in the book, which made me laugh a little to myself as well as take me back to growing up, visiting friend's houses, and roaming through their refrigerators (as well as my fridge in Austin).

Cu-Den banged us a skillet of scrambled eggs, fried Spam, and steamed rice. It was all we could rake out of Cu-Den's sorriest-looking fridge on the planet. The thing was loaded with relish, horseradish, salad dressing, teriyaki sauce, mayonaisse, ketchup, mustard, and not a damn thing to slather the condiment galore on. We doused Cu-Den's special rice with fishsauce and chili paste and gobbled it up. We were going to need full stomachs to fight the Mexican homeboys who were a lot tougher than the redneck football players. [Catfish and Mandala]

The book is no less than a masterpiece. Such a human take it on it all that you can't help but relate to his stories, whether or not you're Vietnamese. So well written, you'll fly through the pages like a hot knife through butter. I feel like I've been to Vietnam and back. Pick it up if you get a chance.